Senior Lee leads larger, more committed Sabers

Senior Lee leads larger, more committed Sabers

CHAMPAIGN — Bryson Lee used to dislike interviews.

Last year, it took the junior a while to adjust to life as St. Thomas More's starting quarterback, including standing in front of a microphone on occasion.

Fast-forward a year and a lot has changed.

Lee knows his football career will continue beyond Champaign-Urbana, with the senior committed to playing football at Idaho in 2019. He's much more comfortable at the controls of STM's offense. And those interviews ... he's a natural now.

Mostly, he's confident about what's ahead for his teammates and him this fall, despite a 1-8 campaign last season.

"It's my senior year. I want to lead me and my brothers to the playoffs, to a winning record," said Lee, whose Sabers begin the 2018 season in nine days when they host St. Joseph-Ogden on Aug. 24 to start their nine-game Illini Prairie Conference schedule. "I just have to prove that I can be a good teammate. That I can lead my team to playoffs, to getting victories and not just be a D-I athlete but the D-I athlete that helps his team be successful.

"We're going to be identified as the underdogs for sure. People aren't going to expect as much as they're going to get."

Lee isn't alone in his belief that the postseason is a reasonable goal for STM in 2018.

"I could give you a PC answer, but I'm not going to lie," second-year coach Nathan Watson said. "Anything less than a playoff berth would be pretty devastating. We have very high expectations for ourselves, as well we should."

Watson's faith stems from the commitment he's seen from his players during the offseason, specifically in the weight room. The Sabers will also benefit from more depth, with the roster ballooning from 22 in 2017 to 39 at the beginning of training camp. There is also a comfort level between the players and coaches that didn't exist last year with the transition in power from Dan Hennessey to Watson rushed after STM hired the former Arcola and Urbana leader around Memorial Day.

It was in a 54-7 loss to Rantoul in Week 5 of last season when Watson realized just how far the Sabers "were behind the power curve."

He called it a turning point in their season.

Lee said it was a wake-up moment for the players.

"We didn't have the heart," Lee added. "We didn't want to play. Coach had a big talk with us the next day, basically we have to get everything together. After that, we played as a team. We played as brothers."

While the pieces around Lee are in place — Watson touted seniors like wide receivers Chad Kelton and Trevor Hummel and offensive linemen Jon Gibas and Tommy Anderson — it's clear that Lee will have to be the straw that stirs the drink for STM to experience at least a four-win bump that would secure a 10th week of football and a return to the playoffs.

A season ago, Lee — who's expected to be moved to wide receiver or defensive back once he arrives in Moscow, Idaho — completed 108 of 255 attempts for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns. He also churned for 229 rushing yards on 73 attempts.

But Watson said the Vandals might want to consider Lee at quarterback once his star pupil arrives on campus.

First, though, Illini Prairie opponents will see the new version of Lee, according to Watson.

"He's a quarterback now," Watson said. "Last year, he was an athletic kid we snapped the ball to. This year, he's actually a quarterback. He understands how to lead. He understand defenses. He knows how to make reads."

Lee has also refined his footwork. He's thinking pass first then run.

And he's accepted all that being the No. 1 quarterback entails, especially the spotlight that comes with it.

"I love that kid," Watson said. "He's fun to be around. He's caring. I trust him babysitting my kids. That's my kids' hero, and he knows it. He doesn't shy away from it. He embraces it. What more could you ask for?"

2018 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 vs. St. Joseph-Ogden 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Olympia 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Monticello 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Chillicothe IVC 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 vs. Rantoul* 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Bloomington CC 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Unity 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Pontiac 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Prairie Central 7 p.m.

*At Memorial Stadium, Champaign

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